Digidesign Eleven Rack
Originally published in Guitar World, June 2010
Eleven Rack’s amps, cabinets and effects sound and feel so good that you may start to consider your amps and effects obsolete.
For many years the stage was the stage, the studio was the studio, and never the twain shall meet. Guitarists who spent hours, and even days, meticulously crafting sounds in the studio found that it was nearly impossible to duplicate those sounds in live performance, and players struggled to convincingly capture the raw power of their onstage sound in the studio. Recently, manufacturers of amp and effect emulation software have made significant progress toward that goal by designing foot controllers to go along with their software. The main problem with that approach is that it still requires guitarists to bring delicate computers onstage. And as we all know, computers are highly susceptible to damage from beer showers, rowdy fans and the dodgy electrical wiring of clubs and dive bars.
The new Digidesign Eleven Rack from Avid successfully brings studio sounds to the stage, and vice versa, without worries or hassles. Eleven Rack is a two-unit rack-mounted processor that features the outstanding amp and cabinet emulation of Digidesign’s Eleven software plug-in plus a variety of new studio and stomp box effects. In the studio, when connected to a computer with the included Pro Tools LE software, the hardware functions like a plug-in, but it also offers re-amping and pro-quality USB I/O interface capabilities. Onstage, the Eleven Rack plugs right into a mixer or guitar amp, just like any other piece of gear, with no computer necessary.
Eleven Rack looks a lot like a standard guitar preamp or rack effect processor. A guitar input and amp output are conveniently located on the front panel, which also includes an XLR mic input with 48-volt phantom power and pad switch. The guitar input features True-Z auto-impedance matching, which duplicates the input resistance of various amps and stomp boxes to provide the same elusive “feel” you get from your guitar when it is plugged into those devices in the real world. The front panel features separate buttons that allow you to instantly engage or disengage individual effects, a tap tempo/tuner button, and six control knobs for adjusting parameters displayed on the large, detailed LCD.
The rear panel is loaded with all the inputs and outputs you need for any studio or stage application, including 1/4-inch stereo line inputs, stereo XLR main outputs, a second amp output (for stereo setups), a stereo effect loop (for connecting external stomp box or rack effects), MIDI In and Out/Thru, AES/EBU digital I/O, S/PDIF digital I/O, a USB 2.0 port, and a 1/4-inch jack for an optional expression pedal or footswitch.
While the Digidesign Eleven software plug-in provides only amp, cabinet and mic emulations, Eleven Rack offers entire rig configurations, each consisting of up to seven simultaneous effects, a volume pedal, an amp, a speaker cabinet and microphone, and an effect loop. The 12 available amp emulations (16 including the multiple channel emulations) comprise a variety of classic Fender, Marshall and Vox amps as well as modern Mesa and Soldano amps and two unique custom amp creations. The seven amp cabinets range from 1x12s to 4x12s, and the eight microphone emulations include a variety of dynamic, condenser and ribbon mics. The effect section has two wahs, fuzz, distortion, overdrive, flanger, chorus/vibrato, two phasers, rotary speaker, two reverbs, two delays, graphic EQ and compressor. All of these effects are modeled from popular stomp box or rack units.
Setting up the Eleven Rack for onstage performance isn’t much different from setting up a traditional guitar preamp. You can plug the unit into a PA or mixer via the XLR main outputs or go directly into a guitar amp via the guitar outputs. A variety of output options let you send only pre-amp effects, effects and amp simulations (with or without cabinet emulations), or the entire rig processing to the outputs. When I first received the unit, I was disappointed to find that the front panel volume control was bypassed in several output configurations that are otherwise ideal for live performance, but just before going to press Digidesign released a firmware update that fixed this issue.
When using the included Pro Tools LE software, you can use your computer to program and control Eleven Rack remotely via a graphic control window, just like a software plug-in. This window lets you see the entire rig chain and a selected amp or effect at once. You can simultaneously record both wet and dry (highly recommended for re-amping or using different rigs in the future) simply by record-enabling two tracks. Recorded tracks save the rig settings you used to make the recording, making it easy to recall the exact sound you used during a future session. Whether you’re controlling Eleven Rack from a computer or its front panel, the unit is very easy to set up and program.
How are the sounds? Stunning. Eleven Rack’s amp emulations are incredibly realistic and complex, with dynamic response that sounds and, more importantly, feels like you’re playing the genuine article. The presets are excellent. Tone chasers will particularly love the “Brownsound” preset—just add in the Orange Phaser at a slow rate and it’s instant “Eruption.” Having used the Eleven plug-in extensively in the studio myself, it’s a revelation to be able to use those same sounds onstage along with some excellent new effects.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Thanks to Eleven Rack, studio sounds and live tones are no longer mutually exclusive. Eleven Rack’s amps, cabinets and effects sound and feel so good that you may start to consider your amps and effects obsolete.
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